When your guests don't want to leave at the end of the night, you'll know your party was a success. Money has next to nothing to do with a party's success, and hosting the can't-miss event of the year is not reserved for the wealthy. Whipping up enough appetizers to keep your guests happy can be done for a fraction of what it would cost to order catering. Putting them all together shouldn't take more than a few hours, leaving you plenty of time to pick out rocking party music, choose your outfit and adjust the mood lighting.
Buy dried beans, which are far cheaper than canned beans. Pick your favorite variety and cook them according to the package directions. Put the cooked beans in a blender with garlic, salt, olive oil, lemon juice and cumin to taste and blend the mixture until it's the consistency of dip. Serve the dip on its own or layer it with salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese for a Mexican-inspired dip.
Slice pitas or tortillas into strips or triangles and arrange them on cookie sheets. Sprinkle olive oil and salt over the slices. Bake the chips until the edges are browned; watch them closely, since they can burn easily. Serve the chips next to the bean dip.
Roll store-bought pizza dough as thin as you can get it. Bake it until it's slightly puffed but not yet brown, then top it with fresh ingredients. Use fresh tomatoes and sliced mozzarella or a mixture of roasted vegetables and caramelized onions. Pop the pizza back in the oven until the toppings are heated and the cheese is melted. Cut the pizza into bite-sized squares. To make the preparation even quicker, buy a pre-baked pizza crust. Store-bought biscuit dough also makes a crispy, buttery pizza crust.
Buy in-season fruit from a farmers market or grocery store. Leave strawberries or grapes whole and cube other types of fruit. Push chunks of fruit onto skewers to make fruit kebabs. To turn your kebabs into a decadent dessert, melt chocolate over a double boiler. Dip the fruit chunks in and refrigerate them to harden the chocolate before pushing them onto skewers.
Stir a block of cream cheese, a cup of light mayonnaise and a few pinches of your favorite spices; fresh parsley and dill make an especially tasty combination. Serve the dip with vegetables like pepper strips, broccoli and carrot sticks.
Bake a batch of rich brownies -- use a mix if you wish -- or a chocolate sheet cake. Slice the dish into 1-inch cubes. The pieces will be rich and delicious on their own, but to dress them up, arrange a dollop of chocolate frosting on each piece and press a fresh strawberry slice in the frosting.
Stow a few bags of chips and pretzels in a cupboard, just in case your guests are hungrier than anticipated.
Stagger the presentation of each appetizer to make them last all night. Put out two or three at the beginning of the party and bring out another every hour or so.